An eye for an eye: the CIA torture report

My first idea was to draw a cartoon on Schermata 2014-12-11 alle 13.59.28the CIA torture report that was made public the 8th December. I searched the Net for some material to start with. I found the report, 525 pages, and a summary on the website mashable.com, that provides the best of the stuff, the “key findings and important developments.” I started reading.

By the end of the first page of the summary I had given up on my cartoon.

Why? Because of what was written in the report. Because I read about tortures I had never heard of. Here are some short excerpts:

“Rectal feeding”, that is, giving food and water to the detainees through the rectum in case they refuse to eat.

“Nudity, dietary manipulation, insult slaps, abdominal slaps, attention grasps, facial holds, walling, stress positions, and water dousing with 44 degree Fahrenheit water for 18 minutes.”

Waterboarding, that is forcing water into the detainee’s mouth to give him the sensation of “near drowning”. Often this results in “involuntary leg, chest and arm spasms” and “hysterical pleas.” It is reported that a man, in March 2013, ingested so much water that his “abdomen was somewhat distended and he expressed water when the abdomen was pressed.”

Coffin-sized boxes, in which the victims were closed for up to eleven days. There was even another box the size of a small washing machine in which a prisoner was forced to stay crouched for 29 hours without a break.

torture
A man undergoing torture in the Abu Ghraib prison, in Iraq, in 2006

The list goes on for pages and pages.

The study of the CIA’s methods for extracting intelligence from prisoners was begun in 2009. After five years of inquiry, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence presented its findings to the White House. This week, the report has been declassified and made public.

Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Select Committee, put some revealing thoughts in her foreword to the report.

She wrote that she “recalls vividly watching the horror of that day, to include the television footage of innocent men and women jumping out of the World Trade Center towers to escape the fire. The images, and the sounds as their bodies hit the pavement far below, will remain” with her for the rest of her life.

She also added that it was “against that backdrop – the largest attack against the American homeland in our history – that the events described in this report were undertaken.”

In its conclusions, of course, the inquiry was “highly critical of the CIA’s actions,” but it is useful, Feinstein added, not to forget “the context in which the program began,” explaining that history should serve as a warning for the future, not as an excuse.

It is worth, indeed, remembering the fear that was born after 9/11, and the extremely high risk of terrorism that the US was facing, she wrote.

But what Feinstein wrote is an attempt to balance something that cannot be balanced.

She tried to give a reason for the horrendous acts of an intelligence agency that was hiding behind the guise of the national security and the notion of the common good. CIA brutally tortured human beings who could well be criminals, but who deserved due process and – if found guilty – to be punished like any other prisoner.

Of course Feinstein recognizes that it was torture. At least she does not try to deny the undeniable. And we must not forget that she writes on behalf of an entire Senate committee populated by politicians less moderate than herself. So it’s a difficult tightrope act for her.

Yet, her reminder of 9/11 seems to imply: ok, something went wrong, but try to understand, we were really really angry, back then.

Rectal feeding, waterboarding, confinement in coffins.. a U.S. Senator telling me that these atrocities are somehow understandable.. Not exactly the best material for a funny cartoon.

by Emanuele Del Rosso

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